A hero is a man of courage and ability who is admired for his brave deeds and noble
qualities. A hero is a person who does not come along very often in any time period. He is
a special person, who is a step above the average person in the way that he handles any
situation that may arise.
This statement is very true for the time of Anglo-Saxon culture and literature. A hero was
like a god and was put on a pedestal far above the others. A hero brought peace to
situations that were deemed impossible and brought joy to many people.
In the poem Beowulf, there is a great example of what a hero is about in this time.
Beowulf is the great warrior of the Geats and he will do anything necessary to keep peace
and to make a better life for his people. That is why he is described as, "The
mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to his people, and most eager for fame" (Norton,
68). Beowulf leads the Geats for fifty years of happiness and prosperity and in turn, made
a name for himself that will be remembered for centuries to come.
A hero always fights to win but it not unfair in battle. For example, Beowulf could have
fought Grendel with a sword and made the battle much easier for himself because Grendel,
"In his recklessness cares not for weapons" (Norton, 32). Beowulf would
rather have a fair battle so he uses his special strength, courage and ability and he
wins, like a hero does.
A hero also performs tasks that are deemed impossible for others. If an average warrior
gets caught in a monsters' grip, it is all over for him. Beowulf, on the other hand, has
dealt with this before, and he deals with it in the battle against Grendel's mother. For
example, "She groped toward him, took the warrior in her awful grip. Yet not the more
for that did she hurt his hale body within" (Norton, 46).
Many men wouldn't be able to carry armor, swords, and a monster head by himself, only a
hero could. This is a tribute to Beowulf's special strength and ability. While the head is
one of several items he carries up, "four of them had trouble carrying Grendel's head
on spear-shafts to the goldhall" (Norton, 48).
What others deem impossible, a hero makes possible. There are only a few great heroes that
come about in this time and Beowulf is definitely one of them. He is a great warrior and
leader, a perfect description for him. Heroes only came along once in a while in this
culture but it was well known when they did.
In poetry, there is often the use of many words that may seem a bit strange to the average
reader. These words are often more complex than what is actually meant, but are used to
enhance the reading and make it more enjoyable to the reader. Other words would make the
poem less smooth, and that is why such complexity arises. These words shape a type of
metaphor, which is referred to as a kenning.
A kenning is a metaphorical circumlocution, signifying a person or thing by a
characteristic or quality (Skill, 10). It is used quite often in Anglo Saxon poetry
and is used to great length in Beowulf. The language of Beowulf has use of four-beat
alliterative line and this allows the use of a variety of kennings.
The use of kennings had such an effect on poetry that many phrases often became cliches.
For example, there are many kennings that are used over and over in the story Beowulf and
some examples are: "mail-shirt" for armor, "dwelling place" for
residence and "mail armor" for helmet. On the other hand, when the kenning was
used with originality, it served the purpose of a metaphor and often had great variety and
There are many examples of kennings in Beowulf and they are used with great variety
throughout the story. Some examples include: "helmet bearers" for warriors,
"earth-hall" for burial mound or barrow, "stone-cliffs" for rocks,
wall, cliffs of stone, "stout-hearted" for bravery and
"shield-warrior" for fighter behind the shield. Many of these words appear in
many readings of Anglo Saxon poetry.
Kennings may seem to be a bit complex to the average reader, but when they are at work,
they enhance the reading and make it more enjoyable. They also help stimulate the mind,
opening up whole new worlds of knowledge never before explored. Kennings are a powerful
tool, and when used properly, they can help turn a literary work from ordinary to
This page is created by Gerald
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